After a year without a home and an abrupt change in management, the resilient City Opera recently announced an encouraging 2009-2010 season. In a new challenge, they now face the possibility of a strike by the union that represents singers and production staff.
On April 1, new general manager George Steel unveiled a 5-opera season set to open this November with a production of Hugo Weisgall’s Esther at the newly-renovated Koch Theater. Steel mentioned in the announcement that some contracts may be up for negotiation.
The American Guild of Musical Artists [AGMA] issued a letter on the same day informing the various singers' agents of the “likelihood” of a strike and advising them that the union may be "forced to undertake such action [whereby] no soloist, chorister or production staff member may perform any work for City Opera."
This letter, signed by AGMA National Executive Director Alan Gordon, suggested that City Opera management was trying to void the current contracts unilaterally in order to extract concessions. The singers' collective bargaining agreement expires in 2011 and the union's current contract with City Opera, negotiated in July 2007, is valid through May 2010.
The Guild issued a detailed, strongly-worded April 3 press statement outlining its position. According to this letter, the possibility of a contract reopening had previously been on the table as negotiated by former general manager-designate Gerard Mortier, who has since resigned his appointment.
They "agreed upon language that would allow either party to reopen the contract if 'extraordinary circumstances' existed." If necessary, this delicate process was to be arbitrated by now-deceased patron Maurice Benowitz. AGMA argues that his death has voided any contractual provisions that would have permitted contract renegotiation prior to May of 2010.
Mr. Steel has not issued a full response at this time, but commented, "We are confused and hurt by Mr. Gordon's public comments. As in the past, New York City Opera prefers to negotiate contractual agreements in confidence."
Set to launch Nov. 5 with an Opening Night Gala Concert honoring David H. Koch, the planned New York City Opera season is to include full productions of Hugo Weisgall’s Esther, a new production of Don Giovanni, Chabrier’s L’Étoile, Madama Butterfly and Handel’s romantic comedy Partenope.